Drier weather good for start of P.E.I. potato season, but rain needed soon

Andrew Smith of Smith Farms Ltd. says the drier temperatures are good for planting potatoes. (Stacey Janzer/CBC - image credit)
Andrew Smith of Smith Farms Ltd. says the drier temperatures are good for planting potatoes. (Stacey Janzer/CBC - image credit)

This spring's dry weather has been good for P.E.I. farmers planting potatoes, but experts say rain will be needed soon.

"On our farm, we're not generally early starters, but we're probably a week to 10 days ahead of where we normally would be," Charlottetown farmer Andrew Smith told CBC News.

"I'm pretty excited about that. I've never been this far ahead in planting in May before."

On Friday, he and his crew were busy planting a round white potato variety that will eventually go to the Frito Lay chip plant.

The potato chunk that's being planted as seed will be supported for a while in the soil before it needs rain, Smith said.

However, what lies ahead is unpredictable. Up until the last few years, Smith said Island farmers regularly planned for a drought season and had irrigation at top of mind.

Greg Donald, general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board, says those who farm small grains like soybeans and corn will want rain soon. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"Now you're left up in the air. You're not sure what to plan for. You're not sure what to wish for," Smith said.

"Never thought I'd wish away rain until last summer, so you just kind of give the crop everything that it needs and hope that it gets through."

Rain well below average

The 30-year precipitation average for April and May is 153.1 millilitres, said CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland. This year on P.E.I., only 42.8 ml has fallen during those months, well below the average.

Due to the unpredictability, Smith said he's using some varieties that yield well under stress — and even better when nature co-operates with good growing conditions.

As for people planting cereal grains and vegetables, Smith said they would like to see rain now to encourage a high rate of germination. His own fields are good so far, but in a couple of weeks he will be hoping to see rain.

There is still a good amount of moisture under the dry soil surface, which is good for the plants, says Greg Donald of the P.E.I. Potato Board. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"This is abnormal, that we would see this stretch of good weather," he said. "Even now, I wouldn't mind a 20 ml of rain to stop and take care of some other business that needs to be done."

Nearly 80% of potato crop now planted

Crops that need some of that water include small grains like cereals, soybeans and corn, said Greg Donald, the general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board.

"Once the seed germinates and emerges and form roots, then the moisture or water in the soil is a critical part of growth. So same thing with potatoes," he said.

He said between 75 and 80 per cent of the Island's 2024 potato crop had been planted as of May 24, well ahead of schedule. But getting the rest in the ground is still weather dependent.

As for the rest of the season, Donald said that with the weather being out of farmers' control, they do everything they can to minimize the effects of drought.

"We're not really sure what normal is anymore. So sometimes it's too dry, other times it's too wet," he said.